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What You Need to Know About Kittens and New Cats




Introducing a New Kitten to its New Environment
Indoor vs. outdoor cats
Introducing a New Kitten to Other Cats in the Household
Playing Behavior in Kittens
Disciplining a Kitten
Vaccinations
The Need for a Series of Vaccinations
Feeding a Kitten
Socialization
The Litter Box
Trimming Toenails
Spaying Female Cats
Neutering Male Cats
Neutralizing Destructive Behavior with the Claws
Pet Identification
Intestinal Parasites ("Worms")
Ear Mites
Flea Control
Dental Disease
Heartworm Infections in Cats
Blood Typing

We would like to congratulate you on the acquisition of your new kitten. Owning a cat can be an extremely rewarding experience, but it also carries with it quite a bit of responsibility. We hope this document will give you the information needed to make some good decisions regarding your kitten.

First, let us say that we are grateful that you have chosen us to help you with your kitten's health care. If you have questions concerning any subject related to your kitten's health, please feel free to call our hospital. Any of the technicians or doctors will be happy to help you.


Introducing a New Kitten to its New Environment

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A cat is naturally inclined to investigate its new surroundings. It is suggested that the cat's area of exploration be limited initially so that these natural tendencies do not create an unmanageable task. After confining the cat to one room for the first few days, you should slowly allow access to other areas of the home.


Indoor vs. outdoor cats
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We highly recommend that all cats be kept completely indoors with no exposure to the outdoors (even fenced-in yards and porches) or to cats that go outdoors. Indoor cats are healthier and live longer than cats that are allowed outdoors. Cats that are allowed outdoors, even under supervision, are at risk of exposure to numerous disease agents including internal parasites (roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, etc.), external parasites (fleas, ear mites), and incurable viral diseases (feline leukemia, FIV). They are also at much higher risk of being attacked by another animal and being hit by a car. All these risks contribute to a shorter, less healthy life for the cat and higher veterinary bills for the owner. Be aware that even our Chicago "high rise" patios and windows are not safe for your cat even though they are away from where outdoor cats roam. Cats will not hesitate to jump after birds or bugs passing by. A fall from a high rise could have life-threatening consequences.


Introducing a New Kitten to Other Cats in the Household
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Most kittens receive a hostile reception from other household pets, especially from another cat. The other cat usually sees no need for a kitten in the household, and these feelings are reinforced if it perceives that special favoritism is being shown the kitten. The existing cat must not feel that it is necessary to compete for food or for attention. The new kitten should have its own food and food bowl, and it should not be permitted to eat from the other cat's bowl. Although it is natural to spend time holding and cuddling the kitten, the existing cat will quickly sense that it is being neglected. The new kitten needs lots of love and attention, but the existing cat should not be slighted. In fact, the transition will be smoother if the existing cat is given more attention than normal.

The introduction period will usually last one to two weeks and will have one of three possible outcomes.

  1. The existing cat will remain hostile to the kitten. Fighting may occur occasionally, especially if both try to eat out of the same bowl at the same time. This is an unlikely occurrence if competition for food and affection are minimized during the first few weeks.
  2. The existing cat will only tolerate the kitten. Hostility will cease, but the existing cat will act as if the kitten is not present. This is more likely if the existing cat is very independent, has been an only cat for several years, or if marked competition occurred during the first few weeks. This relationship is likely to be permanent.
  3. Bonding will occur between the existing cat and the kitten. They will play together, groom each other, and sleep near each other. This is more likely to occur if competition is minimized and if the existing cat has been lonely for companionship.


Playing Behavior in Kittens
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Stimulating play is important during the first week. Stalking and pouncing are important play behaviors in kittens and have an important role in proper muscular development. If given a sufficient outlet for these behaviors with toys, your kitten will be less likely to use family members for these activities. Potential toys include wads of paper, catnip toys, cat dancer/fishing pole toys, and laser pointers. Any toy that is small enough to be swallowed and all yarn and string should also be avoided. Not all pet store toys are safe. Avoid toys with small bells, buttons, etc that cats can chew off and swallow.


Disciplining a Kitten
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Disciplining a young kitten may be necessary if its behavior threatens people or property, but harsh punishment should be avoided. Hand clapping and using shaker cans or horns can be intimidating enough to inhibit undesirable behavior. However, remote punishment is preferred. Remote punishment consists of using something that appears unconnected to the punisher to stop the problem behavior. Examples include using spray bottles, throwing objects in the direction of the kitten to startle (but not hit) it, and making loud noises. Remote punishment is preferred because the kitten associates punishment with the undesirable act and not with you. Punishment must be done during or within seconds of the undesirable behavior, otherwise the kitten will not associate the punishment with the "crime."


Vaccinations
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There are many diseases that are fatal to cats. Fortunately, we have the ability to prevent many of these by using very effective vaccines. In order to be effective, some of these vaccines must be given as a series of injections.

The routine vaccination schedule will protect your kitten from four diseases: panleukopenia (distemper), calici, herpes (rhinotracheitis), and rabies. The first three are included in a combination vaccine (FVRCP). There are two versions of this vaccine - an injectable vaccine and an intranasal vaccine. Both the injectable and intranasal FVRCP is given starting at 6 to 8 weeks of age and given every 3 to 4 weeks until the kitten is at least 16 weeks of age. When the FVRCP is given for the first time to a kitten 16 weeks or older or an adult cat the injectable FVRCP vaccine will be given twice, 3 to 4 weeks apart, while the intranasal FVRCP is given once. Rabies vaccine is given at or after 8 weeks of age and does not need to be boostered for a year. Leukemia vaccine is necessary if your cat does or will go outside at all (even under supervision) or if you have another cat that goes in and out since this deadly disease is transmitted by contact with other cats, especially when fighting occurs. Your veterinarian will advise you whether or not this vaccine is appropriate for your cat.


The Need for a Series of Vaccinations
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When the kitten nurses its mother, it receives a temporary form of immunity through its mother's milk. This immunity is in the form of proteins called antibodies. For about 24-48 hours after birth, the kitten's intestines allow absorption of these antibodies directly into the blood stream. This immunity is of benefit during the first few weeks of the kitten's life, but, at some point, this immunity fails and the kitten must be able to make its own long-lasting immunity. Vaccinations are used for this purpose. As long as the mother's antibodies are present, vaccinations do not last long enough. The mother's antibodies will neutralize the vaccine so the vaccine does not get a chance to stimulate the kitten's immune system fully.

Many factors determine when the kitten will be able to respond to the vaccines. These include the level of immunity in the mother cat, how much of the antibody has been absorbed, and the number of vaccines given to the kitten. Since we do not know when an individual kitten will lose the short-term immunity, we give a series of vaccinations. We hope that at least two of these will fall in the window of time when the kitten has lost the immunity from its mother but has not yet been exposed to disease.

A single FVRCP or Feline Leukemia vaccination, even if effective, is not likely to stimulate the long-term immunity that is so important. The exception to this is the intranasal version of the FVRCP given in a cat over 16 weeks of age - this initial vaccine produces long enough immunity to last until it is boostered after one year.

Rabies vaccine does not need to be given in a series initially, since one injection given at the proper time is enough to produce long-term immunity until the vaccine is boostered after one year.


Feeding a Kitten
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Diet is extremely important in the growing months of a cat's life, and there are two important criteria that should be met in selecting food for your kitten. We recommend a NAME-BRAND FOOD made by a national cat food company (not a generic or local brand), and a form of food MADE FOR KITTENS. This should be fed until your kitten is neutered. Metabolic needs decrease significantly after neutering and spaying, so the amount that the kitten is given should be reduced or they should be transitioned to an adult diet at that time. We recommend that you only buy food that has the AAFCO certification. Usually, you can find this information very easily on the label. AAFCO is an organization that oversees the entire pet food industry. It does not endorse any particular food, but it will certify that the food has met the minimum requirements for nutrition. Most of the commercial pet foods will have the AAFCO label. Ideally, you should feed a diet that has undergone feeding trials. These trials ensure that the diet not only meets the minimum and maximum required amounts of nutrients, but also has been fed to cats whose health status was monitored to ensure digestibility of the diet. This will be mentioned in the AAFCO statement if it was done. Generic brands and many "holistic" or "natural" brands often have not done feeding trials, only a nutritional analysis if anything. A food may look great "on paper" but have poor digestibility and poor nutrient absorption when fed.

Commercial cat foods are available in dry, canned, and semi-moist varieties.

Dry food is less expensive and more stable once the package is opened. For these reasons and for the sake of convenience, many owners will free-feed their cats dry food. Unlimited free choice dry cat food is most likely the key factor in feline obesity. Many dry foods are high in calories and if cats are not restricted, they often overeat. Additionally, dry cat foods are by nature higher in carbohydrates than canned cat foods. Because cats naturally have a very low need for carbohydrates, excessive amounts of dry food will lead to unused carbohydrates as the cat digests the food and subsequent conversion to fat. For these reasons we highly recommend measuring daily feeding amounts and/or meal feeding all foods including dry food for most cats, starting from kittenhood. The bag recommendations are usually higher than most cats need. Most cats will do well to start at the guideline on the bag minus 15 to 20 percent. Your veterinarian can also help with feeding recommendations. In addition to obesity prevention, other benefits to meal feeding include the ability to feed different foods to different cats and immediate knowledge of decreased appetite of your cat.

Canned foods are another choice. Canned foods tend to be fed in meals rather than free choice and, therefore, overeating is not as common with canned cat food. Canned foods by nature are higher in protein and water than dry foods. Canned foods are potentially helpful in preventing urinary tract problems later in your young adult cat's life because of the higher moisture content. We often recommend canned foods anytime we want to increase the water content in a cat's diet for a number of diseases including kidney disease and constipation. Canned foods can be a healthy part of most cats, diets. Some people think that canned food will lead to dental disease and dry food will prevent it. The truth is that both canned food and dry food will contribute to tartar formation and subsequent gingivitis. Regular dry food is not "abrasive" and does not help "chip tartar off" like many people think it will. Dry food when chewed basically crumbles and sticks to the tooth surface, thereby causing plaque and eventually tartar formation. The only exceptions are certain dental diets that actually help prevent the formation of tartar. Hill's T/D and Science Diet Oral Care all use a special plant fiber matrix that allows the kibble to hold its form and the end effect is that the teeth are essentially squeegeed off as they pull out of the kibble, removing plaque in the process and in the long term preventing tartar formation. Not all dental diets are created equally, so beware of other foods and treats that claim to promote dental disease prevention.

Semi-moist diets are also available. The semi-moist foods are high in sugar, and can also lead to obesity when not restricted. They are also not good for cats with diabetes.

Table foods are not recommended. Because they are generally very tasty, cats will often begin to hold out for these and not eat their well-balanced cat food.

Exposing your kitten to a variety of foods during his first year may help to prevent him from being such a "finicky" adult. We enjoy a variety of things to eat in our diet. However, some cats actually prefer not to change from one food to another unless they are trained to do so by the way you feed them. In fact switching from diet to diet can cause gastrointestinal upset. Do not feel guilty, therefore, if your cat is happy to just eat one food day after day, week after week.

We do not recommend raw food diets or vegetarian/vegan diets for cats. These diets lack the nutritional balance found in commercial foods. Raw foods can expose your cat to harmful bacteria and a number of parasites. Additionally, bones can cause tears or perforations in the esophagus, stomach, and intestines. Restricting a cat to a vegetarian or vegan diet puts that cat at risk of developing multiple nutritional deficiencies that could lead to a number of diseases including blindness and heart disease. Cats, unlike people, are true carnivores and require vitamins and minerals available only from animal sources.


Socialization
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The socialization period for cats is between 2 and 12 weeks of age. During that time, the kitten is very impressionable to social influences. If it has good experiences with men, women, children, dogs, other cats, etc., it is likely to accept them throughout life. If the experiences are absent or unpleasant, the kitten may become apprehensive or adverse to any of them. Therefore, during the period of socialization, we encourage you to expose your cat to as many types of social events and influences as possible.


The Litter Box
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The number one behavioral problem of cats is urinating out of the litter box (inappropriate urination). There are several things that cause this frustrating problem, but some of those are related to the litter box. The following comments are included to prevent problems later because cats are particular about their litter boxes, the litter, and the location.

We recommend one litter box for each cat in the household plus an additional box. Some cats like to urinate in one box and defecate in another. Some cats are very fastidious and will only use a clean box. Additionally we recommend at least one litter box per floor of the home.

Choose a litter box that is large enough for your cat to fit in comfortably. It needs to be able to turn around freely. An 18 X 14 inch box with 4-inch sides is appropriate for most adult cats. Kittens may need a box with shorter sides so they can get in and out easily. You can also try a large sweater box with a doorway cut into the front.

We do not recommend a box with a top (hood). Although hooded litter boxes are more private and better contain the litter, they also trap odors inside. Because cats are so fastidious, these odors often cause them to seek other places to urinate. Many cats exhibiting inappropriate urination will return to their litter boxes when the lid is removed.

There are several types of litter: clay, clumpable, crystals, and organic.

Clumping litter is also called scoopable litter. This seems to be the type of litter preferred by most cats. It absorbs urine and swells to about 15 times its original volume. Therefore, you need only to remove the litter clumps and stool; we recommend changing the entire contents of the litter box about every 1 to 2 weeks. It tends to control urine and stool odors better than clay litter.

Clay litter absorbs 75-100% of its weight in moisture. This is good but not adequate to keep urine from being absorbed throughout a widespread area of litter. Solid matter and wet litter should be removed 1-2 times per day, but the entire litter box should be changed every 2 to 3 days. Clay litter is also quite dusty. Cats with allergies can have increased problems when breathing the litter dust.

Crystal litter is fairly new. The crystals absorb urine, sometimes for several weeks without needing to be changed depending on the number of cats using the litter and the volume of urine they produce. The stool must still be removed daily. Some cats may not like the texture of this litter.

Organic litters are made of alfalfa, wheat, pine, newspaper, peanut hulls, corn cobs, or recycled, biodegradable materials. They appeal to some cats, but they are also not well received by others.

Some litters contain scented or odor-controlling additives. Many cats find them objectionable. To minimize the chances of inappropriate urination, it is better to avoid scented litters.

Fecal matter and wet litter need to be removed at least once daily for each cat that uses the litter box. Even with clumping litter, monthly scrubbing of the litter box removes odors that may collect in the box itself. Use warm, soapy water and avoid scented disinfectants.

The location of the litter box is important. It should be on an easily cleaned surface as some cats don't always aim well. Litter is also scratched out or tracked out of the litter box frequently. It is very important that the litter box be placed in a quite, non-threatening location. Cats need their privacy and will avoid a litter box that is in a high traffic area or a location accessible to dogs.


Trimming Toenails
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Kittens have very sharp toenails. They can be trimmed with your regular finger nail clippers or with nail trimmers made for dogs and cats. If you take too much off the nail, you will get into the quick; bleeding and pain will occur. Therefore, a few points are helpful:

  1. If your cat has clear or white nails, you can see the pink of the quick through the nail. Avoid the pink area, and you should be out of the quick.
  2. If your cat has black nails, you will not be able to see the quick so only cut 1/32? (1 mm) of the nail at a time until the cat begins to get sensitive. The sensitivity will usually occur before you are into the blood vessel. With black nails, it is likely that you will get too close on at least one nail.
  3. If your cat has some clear and some black nails, use the average clear nail as a guide for cutting the black ones.
  4. When cutting nails, use sharp trimmers. Dull trimmers tend to crush the nail and cause pain even if you are not in the quick.
  5. You should always have styptic powder available. This is sold in pet stores under several trade names, but it will be labeled for use in trimming nails.


Spaying Female Cats

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Spaying is the removal of the uterus and the ovaries so heat periods no longer occur. This can be done anytime after she is about 4 months old. This is important for all cats regardless of indoor or outdoor status. Even with a strictly indoor cat, in many cases, despite your best effort, the female will become pregnant; spaying prevents unplanned litters of kittens. Spaying offers several advantages. Spaying before a cat has any heat periods may virtually eliminate the chances of both mammary (breast) and uterine cancer. Additionally, the female's heat periods result in about 2-3 weeks of obnoxious behavior. This can be quite annoying if your cat is kept indoors. Male cats are attracted from blocks away and, in fact, seem to come out of the woodwork. They seem to go over, around, and through many doors. If she's not spayed, your cat will have a heat period about every 2-3 weeks until she is bred.


Neutering Male Cats
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Neutering is the surgical removal of both testicles. It offers several important advantages. Male cats go through a significant personality change when they mature. They often become very possessive of their territory and mark it with their urine to ward off other cats. The tomcat's urine develops a very strong odor that will be almost impossible to remove from your house. They also try to constantly enlarge their territory, which means one fight after another. Fighting results in severe infections and abscesses and often engenders rage in your neighbors. We strongly urge you to have your cat neutered at about 4 - 6 months of age. If he should begin to spray his urine before that time, he should be neutered immediately. The longer he sprays or fights, the less likely neutering is to stop it.


Neutralizing Destructive Behavior with the Claws
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There are four options that you can consider: frequent nail clipping, nail shields, surgical declawing, and tendonectomy.

The nails may be clipped according to the instructions above. However, your cat's nails will regrow and become sharp again in about 4 to 7 days. Therefore, to protect your property, it will be necessary to clip them one to two times per week. Encourage appropriate scratching with several scratching posts, both horizontal and vertical, and made of various materials (sisal, cardboard, etc.). Inappropriate scratching can be discouraged in several ways: taping aluminum foil or bubble wrap or applying double sided tape strips ("Sticky Paws") on furniture and other places the cat likes to scratch, or trying a citrus scented spray in those areas. Appropriate scratching can also be encouraged with catnip sprinkled or sprayed on scratching posts and by rewards (attention, treats).

There are commercially available products called nail caps. The most common one is Soft Paws*. These are made of smooth plastic and attach to the end of the nail with a special glue. The nails are still present, but the caps prevent them from causing destruction. After 2-4 weeks the nails will grow enough that the caps will be shed. At that time, you should be prepared to replace them.

Surgical declawing is the removal of the nail and bone down to the first joint. This is done under general anesthesia; there is post-surgical discomfort and pain management is very important. This surgery can be done as early as 12 weeks of age. It can also be done the same time as spaying or neutering. We do not recommend declawing, but if it must be done, it should be done as young as possible. Once declawed, your cat should always live indoors since the ability to defend itself is compromised.

Tendonectomy is the surgical removal of a small part of the tendon on the bottom of each toe. This tendon is needed to make the nail flex. The cat retains its nails, but it cannot flex them for sharpening and scratching. The disadvantage of this procedure is that the nails continue to grow and the cat can't retract them, so they may grow into the pads or become stuck in furniture, carpet, etc. Therefore, the nails must be clipped every 7 to 14 days. Additionally, a significant number of the cats will re-learn how to claw.


Pet Identification
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The latest in pet retrieval is microchipping. This tiny device is implanted with a needle so the process is much like getting an injection. Our scanner can detect these chips; humane societies and animal shelters across the country also have scanners. A national registry permits the return of microchipped pets throughout the United States and Canada. We recommend it. We can microchip your kitten while he/she is anesthetized for spaying, neutering, or declawing. Alternatively, most cats can be microchipped without sedation.


Intestinal Parasites ("Worms")
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Intestinal parasites are common in kittens. Kittens can become infected with parasites almost as soon as they are born. For example, the most important source of roundworm infection in kittens is the mother's milk. The microscopic examination of a stool sample will usually help us to determine the presence of intestinal parasites. We recommend this exam for all kittens. If we can not get a stool sample, please bring one at your earliest convenience. Even if we do not get a stool sample or get a negative fecal exam, we usually recommend the use of a deworming product that is safe and effective against most of the common worms of the cat. Several good medications are available. It is given now and repeated in about 3 weeks, because the deworming medication only kills the adult worms. Within 3-4 weeks the larval stages will have become adults and will need to be treated. Cats remain susceptible to reinfection with hookworms and roundworms. Periodic deworming throughout the cat's life may be recommended for cats that go outdoors.

Tapeworms are the most common intestinal parasites of cats. Cats and kittens can become infected with them when they swallow fleas; the eggs of the tapeworm live inside the flea. When the cat chews or licks its skin as a flea bites, the flea may be swallowed. The flea is digested within the cat's intestine; the tapeworm hatches and then anchors itself to the intestinal lining. Therefore, exposure to fleas may result in a new infection; this can occur in as little as two weeks. Cats can also become infected with tapeworms by eating rodents such as mice.

Cats infected with tapeworms will pass small segments of the worms in their stool. The segments are white in color and look like grains of rice or sesame seeds. They are about 1/8 inch (3 mm) long and may be seen crawling on the surface of the stool. They may also stick to the hair under the tail. If that occurs, they will dry out, shrink to about half their size, and become golden in color.

Tapeworm segments do not pass every day or in every stool sample; therefore, inspection of several consecutive bowel movements may be needed to find them. We may examine a stool sample in our office and not find them, and then you may find them the next day. If you find them at any time, please notify us so we may provide the appropriate drug for treatment.


Ear Mites
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Ear mites are tiny insect-like parasites that live in the ear canal of cats (and dogs). The most common sign of ear mite infection is scratching of the ears. Sometimes the ears will appear dirty because of a black material in the ear canal; this material is sometimes shaken out. We can find the mites by taking a small amount of the black material from the ear canal and examining it with a microscope. Although they may leave the ear canals for short periods of time, they spend the vast majority of their lives within the protection of the ear canal. Transmission generally requires direct ear-to-ear contact. Ear mites are common in litters of kittens if their mother has ear mites.


Flea Control
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Fleas do not stay on your kitten all of their time. Occasionally, they will jump off and seek another host. Therefore, it is important to kill fleas on your new kitten before they can become established in your house. Many of the flea control products that are safe on adult cats are not safe for kittens less than 4 months of age. DO NOT USE PRODUCTS LABELED FOR USE ON DOGS. Cats are very sensitive to insecticides and can become very ill if treated improperly.

There are four products that are used only once per month. Advantage*, Frontline Top Spot*, and Revolution* are the monthly products that kill adult fleas. They are liquids that are applied to the skin at the base of the neck. They are very effective and easy to use. Program* is a liquid mixed with food that causes the adult fleas to lay sterile eggs. It does not kill adult fleas.


Dental Disease
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In addition to obesity, dental disease one of the most common feline health problems today, and unfortunately, is the most overlooked by owners. Dental disease prevention can start early, once the adult teeth are in. Brushing the teeth or using an enzymatic plaque reducing rinse can significantly postpone tartar and gingivitis formation. Many cats will get used to either of these methods with time and persistence, especially if started at a young age. Once the cat is old enough to switch to dry food, a dental diet (discussed above in the food section) is a great choice for the dry potion of the cat's diet.

Dental disease prevention is very important not only to maintain healthy gums and teeth, but also to prevent systemic infections of the bladder, kidneys, liver, and heart.


Heartworm Infections in Cats
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We are still learning about heartworms in cats. There are six factors that need to be considered:

  1. Recent studies have shown that heartworms are more common than we have thought in the past.
  2. In these studies, about 25% of the cats with heartworms live indoors all of the time.
  3. Heartworms are difficult to diagnose. Although we have newer and better tests than in the past, several different tests may be required for a confirmed diagnosis.
  4. There is no good treatment for heartworms in cats. The drugs used in dogs are toxic to the cat, so we try to stabilize the cat and let it outlive the heartworms. This takes about 2 years.
  5. Heartworm infected cats can be stable today and die suddenly tomorrow.
  6. Heartworm prevention is not toxic, not expensive, and is only given once monthly. It is a chewable tablet or topical liquid.

 

We may recommend that you put your cat on heartworm prevention. The monthly chewable tablet, HeartGard* and the monthly topical product, Revolution*, are good insurance against a disastrous disease.


Blood Typing
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Blood typing is available for cats. This is important should your cat develop anemia (decreased numbers of red blood cells) due to a disease or become anemic due to blood loss. It needs to be performed only once in your cat's lifetime.



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